Newspaper Accounts of the New Madrid Earthquake
Saturday, February 22
By a gentleman just from Arkansas, by way of White river, we learn that the earthquake was violent in that quarter that in upwards of 500 places he observed coal and sand thrown up from fissures in the earth, that the waters raised in a swamp near the Cherokee village, so as to drown a Mr. Carrin who was travelling with his brother, the latter saved himself on a log. - In other places the water fell, and in one instant it rose in a swamp near the St. Francis 25 or 30 feet; Strawberry a branch of Black river, an eminence about 1-1/2 acres sunk down and formed a pond.
The Earthquake noticed in our list has been felt in various parts of the country. The paper from Richmond, Falenton(?), Wilmington, Charleston and Savannah, mention the phenomenon-- In Charleston, six distinct shocks were felt; the first and most violent about 3 o'clock, and one minute and a half in duration. It was very severe and alarming; indeed, the vibration was so great as to see some of the church bells ringing- the pendulums of the clocks stopped, and the picture glasses in many houses were broken.
New Orleans, December 26
A letter from Fort Stoddert mentions, that on the morning of the 16th past, two shocks of an earthquake had been felt. This is precisely the time it was felt at Natchez. It is evident that our being on an island and resting on the water, prevented us from feeling part of the shocks.
Cape Girardeau, Feb. 15th, 1812
The concussions of the earthquake still continue, the shock on the 23rd ult. was more severe and larger than that of the 16th Dec. and the shock of the 7th inst. was still more violent than any preceding, and lasted longer than perhaps any on record, (from 10 to 15 minutes, the earth was not at rest for one hour.) the ravages of this dreadful convulsion have nearly depopulated the district of New Madrid, but few remain to tell the sad tale, the inhabitants have fled in every direction. It has done considerable damage in this place by demolishing chimnies, and cracking cellar walls. Some have been driven from their houses, and a number are yet in tents. No doubt volcanoes in the mountains of the west, which have been extinguished for ages, are now opened.
Orleans, January 13
By a gentleman who came on the Steam Boat we are informed that this convulsion of nature, (the first, we believe that has ever been felt on the Mississippi since the settlement of the country by the whites,) has destroyed several islands in the Mississippi, and has thereby endangered its navigation very considerably. He also states that it has sunk the land in a number of places on the margin of the river.
I here give you an extract of a letter, dated Orleans January 16th, from my friend John Bradbury. It will be found to contain some information relative to the effects of the earthquake of 16th Dec. on the Mississippi river and its banks; permit me to add that you have no information from any source which can be more implicitly relied on.
"Our voyage was from various causes tedious and disagreeable, we being 28 days from St. Louis to this place, Mr. Comegys has fared worse, being two months. Our progress was considerably impeded by an alarming and awful earthquake, such as has not I believe, occurred, or at least has not been recorded in the history of this country. The first shock which we experienced was about 2 o'clock on the morning of the 16th Dec. at which time our position was in itself perilous, we being but a few hundred yards above a bad place in the river, called the Devils Race Ground:* in our situation particularly, the scene was terrible beyond description, our boat appeared as if alternately lifted out of the water, and again suffered to fall. The banks above, below and around us were falling every moment into the river, all nature seemed running into chaos. The noise unconnected with particular objects, was the noise of the most violent tempest of wind mixed with a sound equal to the loudest thunder, but more hollow and vibrating. The crashing of falling trees and the loud screeching of wild fowl made up the horrid concert. Two men were sent on shore in order to examine the state of the bank to which we were moored, who reported that a few yards from its summit, it was separated from the shore by a chasm of more than 100 yards in length. Jos. Morin, the patron, insisted on our all leaving the boat which he thought could not be saved, and of landing immediately in order to save our lives: - this I successfully combatted until another shock took place, about 3 o'clock, when we all left the boat, went on shore and kindled a fire. Between the first shock and daylight, we counted 27. As day broke we put off from the shore, at which instant we experienced another shock, nearly as violent as the first, by this the fright of the hands was so much increased, that they seemed deprived of strength and reason: I directed Morin to land on a sloping bank at the entrance of the Devil's Race Ground, intending to wait there until the men should be refreshed with a good breakfast. While it was preparing, we had three shocks, so strong as to make it difficult for us to stand on our feet; at length recovered from our panic we proceeded; after this we felt shocks during 6 days, but none to compare with those on the memorable morning of the 16th. I made many and minute observations on this earthquake, which if ever we meet, I will communicate to you, &c."
* 120 miles below N. Madrid
Extract of a letter from Orleans dated Feb. 11, to a gentleman in this place.
"This city has experienced some slight concussion of earthquake, particularly on the 9th, whilst a number of persons were at the theatre and the ball, some of whom were much alarmed, tho' the shock was not severe, nor had done any damage."
Saturday, March 14, 1812
The Earthquake of the 16th of December last was felt as far North as Charlestown, New Hampshire.
The Indian mode of worship, as happened in consequence of the late Earthquakes.
This alarming phenomenon of nature struck with such consternation and dismay, those tribes of Indians, that live within and contiguous to that tract of country, on the Mississippi, where the severity of the earthquake appears to have been the greatest, that they were induced to convene together in order to consult upon the necessity of having recourse to some method of relief, from so alarming an incident; when it was resolved to fall upon the following expedient to excite the pity of the Great Spirit. [There follows a description of the religious ceremony of the Shawnees.]
We are informed from a respectable source that the old road to the post of Arkansas, by Spring river, is entirely destroyed by the last violent shocks of earthquake. Chasms of great depth and considerable length cross the country in various directions, some swamps have become dry, others deep lakes, and in some places hills have disappeared.
Pittsburgh, Feb. 14
On Friday morning the 7th inst. about 4 o'clock, a shock of an Earthquake was severely felt in this town. The effects of this convulsion were much more sensibly felt, than the one which happened on the 16th of December. Many of the houses were violently shaken.
Accounts from la Haut Missouri, announces a general peace among the Indians, it is said that the earthquakes has created this pacification.
Slight shocks of Earthquake continue to be felt here. On Wednesday night last, several who were awake declare, they felt a strong vibration of the Earth.
THE LOUISIANA GAZETTE AND DAILY ADVERTISER (NEW ORLEANS)
No mail north of Natchez yesterday. Letters from that city state that a small earthquake had been felt there some days ago. From the principles of earthquakes we are surprised it was not felt here. Earthquakes have generally been felt in southern mountainous countries; sometimes located to a small portion of country sometimes more extended. Different nations, near the Adriatic and Mediterranean, have felt the shock of an earthquake at the same moment.
The Comet has been passing to the westward since it passed its perihelion - perhaps it has touched the mountain of California, that has given a small shake to this side of the globe - or the skake which the Natchezians have felt may be a mysterious visitation from the Author of all nature, on them for their sins - wickedness and the want of good faith have long prevailed in that territory.
Sodom and Gomorrha would have been saved had three righteous persons been found in it - we therefore hope that Natchez
A letter from Fort Stoddert mentions, that on the morning of the 16th inst. two shocks of an earthquake had been felt.- This is precisely the time it was felt at Natchez. It is evident that our being our island and resting as it were on the water, prevented us from feeling part of the shock.
From the Natchez Weekly Chronicle
THE EARTHQUAKE - A hasty Sketch
Natchez, Dec. 18th, 1811
Having made a few observations with respect to the Earthquake, which has drawn the attention of the citizens of this place and its vicinity within a few days past, I present them, to you thrown together in a hasty way for publication, if you think fit, under the impression that they may not be uninteresting to your readers.
On the morning of Monday last the 16th inst. several shocks were felt - four have been ascertained by an accurate observer to have been felt in this city. The principal one, as near as can be collected, was about ten minutes past two o'clock, A.M. There was no noise heard in the atmosphere but in a few instances in certain situations-- The shock was attended by a tremulous motion of the earth and buildings - felt by some for about one and a half minutes; by others about five; and my own impression is, that I am conscious of its lasting at least three, having been awakened from my sleep. Several clocks were stopped at two or about ten minutes after. Several articles were thrown off the shelves; crockery was sent rolling about the floor; articles suspended from the ceiling of the stores vibrated rapidly without any air to disturb them, for about nine inches; the plastering in the rooms of some houses was cracked and injured; the river was much convulsed, so much that it induced some of the boatmen at the landing, who supposed the bank was falling in, to cut adrift. The shocks in the morning were at about six or half after, one of them considerable. The vibration of suspended articles was, whenever room would admit them, east to west. Accounts from Louisiana state, that the first shock was felt about ten minutes past 2, A.M. at Black river, thirty miles distant, and at different places on the road to Rapids, where the trees were violently agitated. It was also felt on the river at a considerable distance above and below Vidalia. - The shock was also felt as far up as the Big Black, and at the different intervening towns; in the vicinity of Washington the trees were observed to be much convulsed, nodding their heads together as if coming to the ground.
Another shock was experienced yesterday of fifteen minutes past eleven o'clock, A.M. The houses in several instances shook considerably, and the suspended articles in the stores were violently convulsed. Some clocks were again stopped, and in one of the stores a cowbell was heard to tinkle.
The earthquake that was felt at Natchez on the 16th of December, has been severely felt above and below the mouth of the Ohio - we may expect detailed accounts of the damages soon. Travelers who have descended the river since, generally agree that a succession of shocks were felt for six days; that the river Mississippi was much agitated; that it frequently rose 3 and 4 feet, and fell again immediately; and that whole islands and parts of islands in the river sunk.
We have the following description of the Earthquake from gentlemen who were on board a large barge, and lay an anchor in the Mississippi a few leagues below New Madrid, on the night of the 15th of December. About 2 o'clock all hands were awakened by the first shock; the impression was, that the barge had dragged her anchor and was grounding on gravel; such, were the feelings for 60 or 80 seconds, when the shock subsided. The crew were so fully persuaded of the fact of their being aground, that they put out their sounding poles, but found water enough.
At seven next morning a second and very severe shock took place. The barge was under way - the river rose several feet; the trees on the shore shook; the banks in large columns tumbled in; hundreds of old trees that had lain perhaps half a century at the bottom of the river, appeared on the surface of the water; the feathered race took to the wing; the canopy was covered with geese and ducks and various other kinds of wild fowl; very little wind; the air was tainted with a nitrous and sulphureous smell; and every thing was truly alarming for several minutes. The shocks continued to the 21st Dec. during that time perhaps one hundred were distinctly felt. From the river St. Francis to the Chickasaw bluffs visible marks of the earthquake were discovered; from that place down, the banks did not appear to have been disturbed.
There is one part of this description which we cannot reconcile with philosophic principles, (although we believe the narrative to be true,) that is, the trees which were settled at the bottom of the river appearing on the surface. It must be obvious to every person that those trees must have become specifically heavier than the water before they sunk, and of course after being immersed in the mud must have increased in weight. - We therefore submit the question to the Philosophical Society.
The earthquake was felt at Pittsburg, Richmond, Norfolk, Raleigh, and various other parts of the United Sates.
A slight shock of an earthquake was felt in this city yesterday morning, about nine o'clock. The wind was from the southward, light and gentle, and the morning fine-- it lasted but few seconds & but few felt it. At that time all is bustle in the city - but many proofs, such as clocks stopping, glass shades, and different kinds of glass ware and crockery shaking, the feelings of many who were either writing or reading, prove the fact. We may expect to hear more on the subject from the northward & eastward
THE PITTSBURGH GAZETTE
On Monday morning last, about three o'clock, the citizens of this town were greatly alarmed by the shock of an Earthquake; a number of persons from the shaking of their houses, were so much alarmed as to jump out of bed. About 7 o'clock, the same morning, there was another shock, though not so evident as the first.
By accounts from Meadville, and Waterford, we are informed, that severe shocks of an earthquake were felt at those places on Monday morning the 16th inst. at the same time of those experienced here. At Meadville, the one which happened at 3 o'clock was so sensibly felt, that many persons were awaken by the rocking of their beds, and the trea - - ious motion continued from 10 to 15 minutes - the one at 8 o'clock was nearly as severe, but did not continue so long - the top of the trees in the town were seen to vibrate for about a minute, and the puddles of water in the streets appeared in waves as if a sudden blast of wind had passed over them. On Tuesday about the middle of the day, a third shake was felt, but was slighter than the others.
Extract of a letter from a gentleman on his way to New Orleans, to a friend in this place (Lexington, Ky.) - dated 20th December.
"We entered the Mississippi on the morning of the 14th, and on the night of the 15th came to anchor on a sand bar, about ten miles above the Little Prairie - half past 2 o'clock in the morning of the 16th, we were aroused from our slumber by a violent shaking of the boat - there were three barges and two keels in company, all effected the same way. The alarm was considerable and various opinions as to the cause were suggested, all found to be erroneous; but after the second shock, which occurred in 15 minutes after the first, it was unanimously admitted to be an earthquake. With most awful feelings we watched till morning in trembling anxiety, supposing all was over with us. We weighed anchor early in the morning, and in a few minutes after we started there came on in quick successions, two other shocks, more violent than the former. It was then daylight, and we could plainly perceive the effect it had on shore. The bank of the river gave way in all directions, and came tumbling into the water; the trees were more agitated than I ever before saw them in the severest storms, and many of them from the shock they received broke off near the ground, as well as many more torn up by the roots. We considered ourselves more secure on the water, than we should be on land, of course we proceeded down the river. As we progressed the effects of the shock as before described, were observed in every part of the banks of the Mississippi. In some places five, ten and fifteen acres have sunk down in a body, even the Chickasaw Bluffs, which we have passed, did not escape; one or two of them have fallen in considerably.
The inhabitants of the Little Prairie and its neighborhood all deserted their homes, and retired back to the hills or swamps. The only brick chimney in the place was entirely demolished by the shocks. I have not yet heard that any lives were lost, or accident of consequence happened. I have been twice on shore since the first shock, and then but a very short time, as I thought it unsafe, for the ground is cracked and torn to pieces in such a way as made it truly alarming; indeed some of the islands in the river that contained from one to two hundred acres of land have been nearly all sunk, and not one yet that I have seen but is cracked from one end to the other, and has lost some part of it.
There has been in all forty-one shocks, some of them have been very light; the first one took place at half past 2 on the morning of the 16th, the last one at eleven o'clock this morning, (20th) since I commenced writing this letter. The last one I think was not as severe as some of the former, but it lasted longer than any of the preceding; I think it continued nearly a minute and a half. Exclusive of the shocks that were made sensible to us in the water, there have been, I am induced to believe, many others, as we frequently heard a rumbling noise at a distance when no shock to us was perceptible. I am the more inclined to believe these were shocks, from having heard the same kind of rumbling with the shocks that affected us. There is one circumstance that has occurred, which if I had not seen with my own eyes, I could hardly have believed; which is, the rising of the trees that lie in the bed of the river. I believe that every tree that has been deposited in the bed of the river since Noah's flood, now stands erect out of the water; some of these I saw myself during one of the hardest shocks rise up eight or ten feet out of water. The navigation has been rendered extremely difficult in many places in consequence of the snags being so extremely thick. From the long continuance and frequency of these shocks, it is extremely uncertain when they will cease; and if they have been as heavy at New Orleans as we have felt them, the consequences must be dreadful indeed; and I am fearful when I arrive at Natchez to hear that the whole city of Orleans is entirely demolished, and perhaps sunk.
Immediately after the first shock and those which took place after daylight, the whole atmosphere was impregnated with a sulphurous smell."
New Orleans, December 26.
A letter from Fort Stoddert mentions, that on the morning of the 16th inst. two shocks of an earthquake had been felt. This is precisely the time it was felt at Natchez. It is evident that our being on an island and resting on the water, prevented us from feeling part of the shock.
Fort St. Stephens, December 24.
On Sunday night the 15th inst. the earth shook here so as to shake the fowls off their roosts, and made the houses shake very much, again it shook at sunrise and at 11 o'clock next morning, and at the same time the next day, and about the same time the third day after.
Accounts are brought in from the nation that several hunting Indians who were lately on the Missouri have returned, and state that the earthquake was felt very sensibly there, that it shook down trees and many rocks of the mountains, and that everything bore the appearance of an immediate dissolution of the world! - We give this as we got it - it may be correct - but the probability is that it is not.